July 26, 2017

Refugees reveal the one thing they must do within eight months of resettlement

There is a lot of ignorance about America’s refugee resettlement process. During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump claimed that Syrian refugees were “pouring into” America and suggested that some might be aligned with the Islamic State. His administration has placed a temporary ban on refugees from six countries until a better vetting system can be put in place.

But Joe Haas, who directs the resettlement program at Catholic Charities in Erie, Pa., said the current 20-step vetting process ensures “constant scrutiny” of refugee applicants. It involves many months, usually years, and several rounds of information gathering, medical screenings, interviews, cultural orientation, and fact-checking. “If any point along that process a red flag comes up, you either get kicked out of the system altogether or you go back and they relook at it to find out what’s going on,” Haas said. “To say that thousands of un-vetted refugees are pouring through, is just either ignorance to the process or an outright lie.”

One aspect that may surprise people is that resettled refugees are required to be economically self-sufficient within eight months of arrival. “From day one we’re trying to get them ready to find a job, get into a job,” Haas said. “For a lot of them, it means they’re taking a job below their training or their expertise, but they need to get a job.”
Employers in Erie, a top resettlement destination, are very happy with the refugees, Haas said. They work hard, show up on time, and are respectful. They also don’t have problems with drugs, a challenge many employers face when hiring native-born residents.

Hiba Alsabonge, who came to America from Iraq in 2014, has a degree in laser engineering. But her initial job in the U.S. was as a cashier at Walmart. She enjoyed it, and made such an impression on her co-workers that some of them cried when they learned that she would be leaving to take a job as a case manager at Catholic Charities, where she has worked since 2016. “Here, if you work hard, you see the results,” Hiba said.

This video was originally featured as a part of the Washington Examiner’s series The Race to 2020: The people and places that will define a presidency. You can read more about Erie County, see more videos, or use the form below to get email updates about future updates.

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